“I’m an Automotive Aftermarket Business Owner – How Should I Market My Business Online?”
Where do you invest your marketing dollars in today’s wildly fragmented digital world? Invest heavily in SEO? Google Ads? Instagram marketing/ads? Email marketing? Social media posting? Where will you get the best bang for your buck? This is one of the most popular questions marketing consultants get these days, and the answers depend on the type of automotive-related business you run.
It’s easy to get caught up in what other businesses are doing with their marketing, especially when we see their messages everywhere. But what makes sense for them might not make sense for your business. Instead of following the lead of others and throwing money at all the popular marketing channels, it makes more sense to take a step back and try to look at things logically. Analyze your business, your offerings, your target audience, their decision process, and use all of that to determine your company’s best growth opportunities.
If you’re just starting out with your marketing plans for your shop, or you’ve thrown money at marketing without having much of a strategy, read on.
What is your Core Competency?
First of all, what is your company’s bread and butter? What do you do best, and what is most profitable for you? Is it selling product online or do you specialize in physically working on the cars? Some might say both, but understand that product retailers and service shops tend to be better suited for different marketing approaches and options. When it comes to prioritizing where to allocate your marketing spend, especially with smaller budgets, sometimes it’s best to focus on marketing yourself as one or the other (product retailer or service shop), then branch out and test from there.
Let’s take a look at these two common automotive aftermarket business types and talk about the common sense marketing options each business type should consider. The details and strategies of each marketing option won’t be explained in great detail below, but you should come away with enough information to do some more research on your own.
Say you run a shop that specializes in repairs, maintenance, and parts installations. You might also sell products but your core competency is service. Your customer base is heavily based in your local region and even though you do some performance builds and parts installations, your most profitable offering is maintenance packages and repairs. Some of your target audience will be asking for referrals on social media but your average customer is most likely going to jump on Google and look for shops that have good ratings and reviews.
This makes local search rankings in Google extremely important to your business. Meaning, showing up in the Google Maps listings and also in the organic search results below the map on both mobile devices and desktop computers is going to be key for growth. The more 5-star reviews posted in Google, the better!
Do some research on “Google Local Map Pack” and you’ll find a ridiculous amount of information on what we call “local SEO” and everything involved, along with countless websites hoping you’ll pay them to help you improve your rankings. You’ll learn about keyword research, citations, NAP, data aggregators, and more. Local SEO is a little different than basic Search Engine Optimization because Google handles local results differently than (what it determines to be) non-local results, and the steps to improve local rankings differ from basic organic SEO. And since Google changes their algorithm from time to time, the recipe for good rankings changes too.
A good way to supplement local SEO efforts is by mixing in some paid Google Ads campaigns, capitalizing on some of the same keyword combinations as your local SEO efforts. Research has shown that some users prefer to click on the ads in the search results, while others like to skip over them and click on the organic results – depending on your average sale amount it could make sense to have both areas covered. Experience with keyword research and competitor analysis really pays off when it comes to conversion.
Do service shops benefit from other marketing opportunities like social media marketing, email marketing, general organic SEO, content marketing, and other campaigns? Absolutely, and those are great “top of the funnel” strategies companies use for branding and to stay top of mind. But if you consider where the customer is in the decision process when they’re searching Google for repair shops in their geographic area, the lowest hanging fruit is the person looking to make a call, which makes local SEO a top priority. Is your shop showing up for the keyword combinations they’re searching for? How likely are you to influence them to call your shop and set up an appointment when they’re browsing those search results.
Specialty Service Shops
Certain specialty services like full performance vehicle builds, fabrication, transmission/engine builds, and tuning shops might be somewhat less dependent upon locale since customers will look outside of their region for a highly specialized service. It’s more likely they’ll ship their engine (or even car) to a trusted shop outside of their area for specialty service. This makes local SEO rankings a little less critical in the decision process than they are for common repairs and maintenance services. These customers are spending more time in forums, on Facebook, and in Facebook groups (and other social networks) looking for shops who specialize in their make and model vehicle and the services they need. They’re looking for the shops with the best reputation. Social media marketing, paid ads, and general SEO are likely all going to be a high priority focus for specialty shops.
As with local SEO, it’s still about trust and reputation, but that reputation needs to be built up across multiple platforms and communities. That reputation will include the image your shop creates through your social media channels and activity, as well as what others say about you. Referrals, testimonials, and storytelling from your customer base, combined with your own storytelling efforts will paint a picture of trust in the niches where your target audience participates. With that said, it still makes sense to have your local SEO bases covered to ensure you get the call from those who are searching locally. You still want great reviews and ratings in local directories, even if it isn’t the main trust factor.
High profile customers who act as “influencers” in the community are becoming a popular marketing tool for business owners, and specialty shops in particular. In this industry, the concept isn’t new. Sponsored drivers and vehicle owners are considered influencers, but that doesn’t mean you have to sponsor more cars/people and hand out free services. Simply learning who is who in your market and paying attention to who your customers are can help you identify high profile customers who may already do business with you. Leverage those influencers by building relationships with them and showcasing them in your marketing messages. Grow and leverage your brand advocates.
Even just having those influencers like/follow your Facebook page can be important. When you post a paid Facebook ad, for example, that high profile customer will be shown as someone who likes your page to his/her friends list. That is one simple, yet effective step in building trust and authority in the market in the minds of your target audience.
Paid ads on Facebook and Google will help reinforce branding and send traffic into your sales pages – which should help sales conversions. Many companies will run paid ads while they work on their organic SEO rankings for the keywords that are important to their business. Facebook allows a high degree of audience targeting with their paid ads system, making it very cost effective to reach your target audience. Testing different campaigns, ad copy, images, and targeting will be the keys to success.
Running paid ads on Facebook also allows you to separate your sales pitch posts from posts that aren’t plugging products/services. To build trust around your brand and elevate your shop’s image with your audience you need a steady mix of content that isn’t made up of sales pitches. Your organic activity on social media and forums shouldn’t consist of mainly sales copy. It should be a mix of useful, insightful, inspiring, or educational content. This content should be posted in your website’s blog, and then distributed through your social networks and email list. “Retargeting” is a great tool to leverage when running paid ads on Facebook and Google.
If you’re selling products online you won’t be focused much on local SEO rankings unless you also have a brick and mortar storefront. Instead, you will get more bang for your buck prioritizing general organic SEO, paid Google and social ads, social media marketing, and email marketing. Which one you prioritize highest will depend on how your customers make buying decisions for your product offering.
For those who retail products that are sold by others in the industry, general organic SEO rankings will be important when the user is searching Google for product manufacturer and model names/numbers. Internal link structure, unique product and category descriptions, cross linking, deep linking, canonical links, and anchor text are all important for your website’s “on-page” optimization and that’s where you have the control over your SEO rankings. Obtaining natural links from external “authoritative” websites in (and outside) the industry will help rankings as well but you must be careful where and how you get those links – getting links to your site in an unnatural way could get you a Google ranking penalty.
Buying decisions are often driven by price, shipping time/cost, and sometimes vendor reputation and knowledge of the product, but if you aren’t found in Google searches you have fewer opportunities to even compete on those points. Social posts and ads will bring in more traffic, but conversion will vary depending on what you’re promoting and how you compete in the market. It’s obviously wise to invest your marketing spend in the product lines where you have a competitive advantage.
Local SEO won’t necessarily be a heavy focus for online retailers, but gathering reviews on Google and other places will still be important to build and maintain trust. Don’t completely ignore it.
Paid ads on Google are common for product retailers, and for good reason. When someone types in a product name or number into Google, the user expects to see results with retailers listed who sell that product. You’re always going to be working on your organic SEO rankings for your products, but even if your organic rankings are pretty good ignoring Google ads can mean leaving money on the table.
The user typically sees paid search result listings above, below, and to the right of the organic results, some are shown as “shopping ads” listings that display a product photo, product price, and retailer name. The shopping ads are technically a separate program from the basic Google ads and requires different set up and maintenance.
Social Paid Ads are also a logical marketing option for product retailers. As I mentioned before, Facebook has great targeting options when you’re setting up and testing paid ad campaigns. You can target followers of the product manufacturer pages, followers of your own page, your past website visitors, members of Facebook groups you admin for, and various other options.
If your sales are made up of a large percentage of online purchases you should look into setting up conversion tracking to measure the effectiveness of your paid ads. Difficulty of getting this set up will depend largely on the e-commerce platform you’re using. And obviously, if the customer is likely to call and purchase over the phone you’ll have a hard time tracking conversion rates.
Specialty product retailers
Companies who manufacture their own products or sell products with very little retailer competition will benefit from organic SEO just like everyone else, but it’s more likely that customers will be introduced to their product in niche communities and social media networks. This makes social media marketing and paid social ads logical marketing options. Organic social media postings and ads with product visuals and imagery that portrays extraordinary or even just impressive results will go a long way to build branding and generate interest in your products.
And just like we covered with service shops, having high profile customers and influencers sharing their experiences and results with your products will reinforce your message and strengthen trust in your brand. This tends to make more sense for specialty product retailers than it does retailers who sell the same products as other retailers, but it’s still worth considering for all retailers. Consider partnering and collaborating with shops who offer complimentary products.
Another trust builder that product retailers are using to good effect is content marketing. This usually involves publishing articles or blogs about product testing, white papers, or project build threads that showcase the expertise and knowledge of the products the retailer specializes in. This content is then promoted through the website and social channels. Some customers appreciate dealing with retailers who can answer technical questions and provide support after the sale. Content marketing gives you the ability to show off that expertise. Word of caution on this – some retailers find themselves providing heavy technical support pre-sale, which isn’t always a profitable time investment.
Content can also be distributed through email marketing. Nobody likes to be bombarded with marketing emails, but if your content is useful to the recipient, it should spur clicks to your website or sales calls. Email is also one of the most effective ways of communicating with past customers to let them know about new products, sales and/or promotions. A strategy that includes a monthly email blast to your customer base is wise, but you’ll need to plan out the content scheduling carefully to get your emails read, avoid unsubscribes, or having them marked as spam.
As with any marketing strategy, determine what the goals are for your campaigns. The obvious long term goal is growing sales. But that shouldn’t always mean sales is your only growth indicator. Don’t underestimate the power of branding and being “top of mind” as you plan out your campaigns. When customers see your brand in key places, they begin to identify your company as an icon in the industry.
Constantly ask yourself why the customer should choose your company to do business with. Understand the decision factors that come into play for your products and/or services. Keep in touch with trends on how and where trust is being established and maintained.
Be sure you’re ready to convert the leads generated from your marketing. What I mean by that is make sure your website is user friendly, mobile friendly, has solid product/service descriptions and photos, and offers a clear path to conversion. It makes no sense to spend time and money to bring traffic to a site that isn’t ready to turn that traffic into sales.
Garage40 offers many a-la-carte services that you can use to fill gaps in your marketing efforts. If you are looking to have someone manage the day to day tasks associated with marketing and paid ads management to maximize your time and revenue growth, consider partnering up with us.